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– by Fox Troilo

Master of Wills by Stormcrest Games
Price: ~$60.00
Players: 
2 or 4
Playtime: 
25 to 45
Perfect for:
Players who enjoy strategic card-based engine building mechanics

Master of Wills is a game of influence and manipulation—of cards, that is.  Before we get into how the game is played, here’s a little more about the theme and story for context, as per the publisher, Stormcrest Games:

It is the distant future. The world has become a dangerous place where the balance of power rests between opposing forces known as Factions. These groups manipulate and influence the citizens of the Community in an effort to join their side and vanquish the opposition.

Each Faction uses movement and control to turn the tide against their opposition. By expanding influence over the Community, power can be acquired. Choose a side and become the Master of Wills.

In Master of Wills, players face off one-on-one (or two-on-two), drafting and playing cards carefully. Most cards have a score/victory point and move towards either your side of the board, or your opponents’. If you have more points on your side at the end of several rounds, you win. Movement of cards towards one side or the other is controlled through playing other cards through a chain reaction mechanic, potentially with both positive and negative effects: drafting a blue card could allow you to also move a high-value red card into your territory, but you also might have to “pay” for that by moving a purple card towards your opponent. On top of that, each team/player has Faction cards which serve as modifiers or disruptors to gameplay.

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What works in Master of Wills is the engaging complexity of the cost versus benefit strategy and the unpredictability caused by the multitude of variables introduced through the Faction cards. The real key to Master of Wills is thoroughly evaluating both your best options but also those of your opponent, to blend offensive and defensive tactics. Often, drafting the card that has the highest point value might seem attractive, but only gains you a short-term reward. The strongest plays are those that link actions together that gain your points you while also weakening your opponent. Once players become accustomed to the core mechanics of drafting and leveraging cards, an intricate and sophisticated strategy emerges.

Master of Wills is further bolstered by a rather large array of Faction cards. These cards comprise a separate set deck drafted by players in secret at the beginning of the game and then used strategically to alter various elements card play. For example, a Faction card may allow a player to suddenly swap a high-value card from their opponents’ territory into their own, or increase (or decrease) the value of specific cards in a territory. Some Faction cards have immediate and instant effects; others have ongoing effects. The powers of these cards keep Master of Wills fresh and engaging, fueling a strong likelihood of multiple playthroughs.

While Master of Wills has a solid gameplay mechanic, there are few facets that do not come together as cleanly. Perhaps the game’s biggest weakness is the instructions which are strangely confusing and have some gaps regarding how to resolve what appear to be common situations. Master of Wills should be a relatively easy game to pick up, but ease of play is hindered by the structure of the rules and lack of details.  Second, there are physical components of the game which seem somewhat superfluous.  For a somewhat hefty price, players get essentially three decks of cards and a board, and while the board is helpful for organization, it is not entirely necessary. Though one might argue, the higher price point can be justified by what should be a high level of game replay. Furthermore, it should be noted that Master of Wills has (and will have) several expansions to broaden the experience. Stormcrest is clearly trying to build a universe with Master of Wills, and the commitment to thematic development for those willing to invest is apparent.

Master of Wills is wonderfully sneaky about how strong of a strategic game it is. There is the adage of “easy to learn, hard to master,” and Master of Wills falls squarely into that category. For players looking for a solid two-person game that relies more on skill and wit than luck, Master of Wills will likely win you over.

Recommended if you like: 7 Wonders Duel, Lost Cities, Dragon’s Hoard

FINAL GRADE: A-

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Fox serves as an entertainment journalist in the Washington, D.C. When not covering cinematic news for LRM, he critiques films as a member of the Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association. Fox also has a Ph.D. in Higher Education and Strategy from Indiana University Bloomington.